About this time every Sunday, I start to feel vaguely uneasy and preoccupied thinking about the impending work week.
Part of this is because I don't particularly like my job, and lately it's been significantly less rewarding and more stressful than usual.
But part of it, I think, is that the place of work both in our society's view of a full human life and in my own life are a little unbalanced right now.
Almost every day when I get home, I experience the cumulative effect of a day spent in that absolutely mind-crushing combination of psychological stress and intellectual boredom that seems to be the hallmark of a typical office environment. I feel exhausted, drained and unable to focus, and about all I want to do is flop down on the couch and watch TV or mindlessly thumb through articles online.
Of course, when I do, the effect is not a feeling of being rested and refreshed. If anything I feel more exhausted and nervy and less able to cope with the next day's stress. Why? I was tired, and needed relaxation, right?
Wrong. What I needed, and what so few people actually get, is leisure, as defined by Josef Pieper in his phenomenal little book Leisure, the Basis of Culture:
The simple ”break” from work - the kind that lasts an hour, or the kind that lasts a week or longer - is part and parcel of daily working life. It is something that has been built into the whole working process, a part of the schedule. The ”break” is there for the sake of work. It is supposed to provide "new strength” for "new work,” as the word ”refreshment” indicates: one is refreshed for work through being refreshed from work.
….Now leisure is not there for the sake of work, no matter how much new strength the one who resumes working may gain from it; leisure in our sense is not justiﬁed by providing bodily renewal or even mental refreshment to lend new vigor to further work - although it does indeed bring such things!…Leisure is not justiﬁed in making the functionary as "trouble-free” in operation as possible, with minimum "downtime,” but rather in keeping the functionary human…and this means that the human being does not disappear into the parceled-out world of his limited work-a-day function, but instead remains capable of taking in the world as a whole, and thereby to realize himself as a being who is oriented toward the whole of existence.
This is why the ability to be "at leisure” is one of the basic powers of the human soul. Like the gift of contemplative self-immersion in Being, and the ability to uplift one’s spirits in festivity, the power to be at leisure is the power to step beyond the working world and win contact with those superhuman, life-giving forces that can send us, renewed and alive again, into the busy world of work. Only in such authentic leisure can the "door into freedom” be opened out of the conﬁnement of that "hidden anxiety,” which a certain perceptive observer has seen as the distinctive character of the working world, for which "employment and unemployment are the two poles of an existence with no escape.”
Since I really need a reminder about this right now, I think I'm going to set myself a good old-fashioned high school reading and writing assignment. I'll read a few pages of Pieper each week and do a synopsis here, with probably some chunky block quotes, then consider its application. And then, I dunno...have a feast, maybe. We'll see.